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4.6 Flow Density & the Edge of Chaos

A. Incomplete Assumptions

Mechanisms not Laws

The Pulse of Life that we just demonstrated exhibits many principles. In this section, we will examine them more thoroughly. Principles are defined in these papers as mechanisms. Mechanisms are not laws. Laws are like a road map, designating possible routes. Mechanisms are like the best route. Laws, not mechanisms, are the determining factor in physical systems. There is only one possible route, the most efficient route. With Live systems they tend towards the most efficient route, but it is a hit and miss until they hit upon it and even then they don't need to follow it. With the Boredom Principle in effect most humans wouldnt take the same route too many times because it would activate the pain of boredom. Efficiency is not the sole influence on behavior. With physical systems they always take the most efficient route. This law is at the base of many physics derivations. This physical law becomes a mechanism in Live systems. Economists have unsuccessfully tried to apply this as a law to economic systems. It applies as a mechanism operating in concert with other mechanisms, but not as a law, as it does in physical systems. The Boredom Principle is not a law; it is a mechanism. Darwin's theory of evolution is a mechanism not a law. A law is mandatory. A mechanism is only recommended.

First: If potential for change begin shrinking, humans feel pain

The Pulse of Life exhibits some important mechanisms. These mechanisms are based upon certain assumptions or postulates. The first preliminary postulate is that humans feel pain or discomfort when their potentials for change begin shrinking. The potential for change is measured by Deviations. Hence when the Deviations begin shrinking, it causes Homo sapiens sapiens pain. This postulate is at the root of the Boredom Principle. "My closets are full and I have nothing to wear." "We're having chicken again?! But we had it last night. Can't we please have something else?" These are but two examples of Boredom Principle comments.

Converse: If Deviations are growing, humans feel pleasure; not quite

The converse of this postulate is that when the potential for change is growing that the human feels pleasure. Both of these postulates need to be extended and refined, put in a larger context. Obviously after a period of intense instability, a time when the Deviations and potentials are growing, the human craves order and stability, when the Deviations are shrinking. Obviously this mechanism violates both of the preliminary postulates. The human got pleasure from shrinking Deviations and pain from growing Deviations. Conversely if the human had been going through a long stable time, Deviations shrinking, then according to the theory he would tend to crave some excitement, Deviations expanding. These two mechanisms are opposite. The response of the organism is based upon what went before. It is a contextual response based upon environmental and historical factors. But this mechanism causes us to put limits upon our Boredom Principle. To understand these limits we must first reexamine the Flow Density of a system.

B. The Flow Density of Living Systems

A review of Flow Density

In the Notebook, Data Stream Momentum, we developed the measure we called Flow Density. The Flow Density is a percentage, which measures the order or lack of order of a complete system. It is a function of the Data, the Averages and the Deviations of all the Data Streams, which make up the entire system. Physical systems have a Flow Density of '1'. They are perfectly ordered and predictable. The Flow Density of Random Systems is '0'. There is no order. Live systems have a Flow Density between 0 and 1. The more ordered and predictable the Live system, the closer the Flow Density is to 1.

The Why Game

Hence according to arguments presented above, most plants would have a higher Flow Density than most animals and most animals would have a higher Flow Density than most humans. Why? The behavior of plants is more predictable than the behavior of animals, which is more predictable than the behavior of humans. Why? Plants, for the most part, don't have choice; their behavior is genetically based. Most animals have lots of choices because of their ability to move. The greater the number of choices, the greater the unpredictability of the system. The greater the brain capacity, the greater the number of choices. Hence humans with their greater brain capacity have more choices and hence are more unpredictable. Because they are more unpredictable they have a lower Flow Density.

The human spectrum

There is also a human spectrum. Some humans are more rigid, having a higher Flow Density than others. The most rigid humans, however, would tend to have a lower Flow Density than almost any animal. In an overall sense, animals tend to follow rather tightly defined behavior patterns, with not much apparent overall variability. Hence their Flow Density is much higher. Humans because of their computational skills can move much closer to Random without becoming overwhelmed by it.

A Sense of Identity and a great Flow Density

Yet even humans, especially in times of war and upheaval or just after, have an intense craving for stability and order to raise their Flow Density. Raising the Flow Density gives a greater sense of identity. At the extreme we have the stable rock with a Flow Density of '1'. Lowering the Flow Density gives a greater sense of potentiality, being truly alive. Lowering the Flow Density too far results in turbulence. Turbulence destroys systems and organisms. The organism wants to preserve itself and yet be alive.

Why are humans so unpredictable?

As reported earlier the Neanderthal's brain capacity was equal to the humans so why wouldn't they be nearly as unpredictable as humans? They would have nearly as many choices. However we saw earlier in this Notebook that the Neanderthal and earlier homo species were incredibly predictable compared to Homo sapiens sapiens, the modern human. We predicated a Boredom Principle, which spurred the human to experimentation and diversity. We've just seen, however, that the Boredom Principle is not universal but is instead contextual. What context triggers the Boredom Principle? First let us look at another concept, the edge of chaos.

C. The Edge of Chaos

A Phase transition between order and chaos

Scientists at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico were able to simulate simple evolutionary situations with cellular automata. They found that the ability to compute seemed to confer an evolutionary advantage. Moreover the ability to compute led these computer 'organisms' to the edge of Chaos. The Edge of Chaos is like a phase transition. It is the border between order and chaos and yet is a state in its own right. Information is still being transmitted but is not static.

Psychologically, order and chaos balance each other

Psychologically order is safe and predictable, but the potential for new growth is lessened because of the lack of spontaneity. Psychologically prolonged chaos is dangerous because it leads to turbulence, which destroys the system. Somewhere between these extreme points is the edge of Chaos, where the potential for change and growth is maximized and yet the system is not threatened by turbulence. The edge of chaos is exciting because it is also on the edge of order. Order is the anchor, which keeps our boat from floating off into chaos. Chaos rooted to order is like the child exploring his environment while keeping his eye upon his mother. A child without his mother is lost and afraid. However, a child is excited to explore with his mother's watchful eye upon him.

Computation gives humans the potential for a lower Flow Density

The better an organism is able to compute, the closer it moves to the edge of chaos. The edge of chaos is where evolution seems to occur most easily. Hence humans with their increased brainpower, and accordingly computational abilities, are pushed toward the edge of chaos. Hence because of his computational abilities, the human organism has a greater ability to achieve a lower Flow Density, moving closer to the edge of Chaos, without being overwhelmed by turbulence.

Self-actualization and the edge of chaos: unsubstantiated blabbering

Humans and organizations residing upon the edge of chaos maximize their chances of survival in turbulent times because of their ability to adapt. The edge of chaos constantly challenges our sense of balance because it is all in a state of flux. Residing in the ordered realm there is an inherent static balance. If, however, anything challenges that stability, the organism has a harder time maintaining balance and reasserting it, if balance is lost. Because creation is in a constant state of flux, a la Buddhism, our balance is constantly challenged. To retreat from the Edge into the safety of order and stability, one weakens one's potential for adaptation when the next big wave hits.

Flirting with the edge

Hence the human seeking self-actualization attempts to stay as close as possible to the edge without falling in. Hence there is a constant ebb and flow of behavior, flirting around the edge. Going over the edge coming back again. It is on the edge of Chaos that we feel most alive. The human attempts to create a sense of self by increasing their Flow Density and yet resists complete rigidity by reverting to acts of spontaneity.

The Edge is constantly changing

One last point before returning. The position of the edge of chaos is constantly changing. The edge is defined in a contextual fashion. For someone who has gone through a lot of stress, for someone who is 'stressed out', their edge of chaos is well within the ordered region of someone who is psychologically well rested and strong. Because each of us internalizes stress differently, our borders of chaos are drawn in different places. However because we are humans we are inexorably drawn to the edge of our own internal definition of chaos like moths to a flame. We shall now examine some mechanisms, which lead us there.

D. Meta-principles

A meta-principle: humans avoid randomization as well as materialization

Let's look at a meta-principle derived from the preceding discussion. The human is motivated by two principles. First he doesn't want to go Random. Second he doesn't want to go Material. The human balances between the two extremes. Going Random means that life is so turbulent that patterns are destroyed. When the Flow Density of an organism shrinks too close to zero then the organism is going Random. Going Material means that the human's life is so rigid that there is no flexibility. When the Flow Density grows too close to one then the organism is going Material. Live is between Random and Material.

Game Players

What about this push towards the edge of chaos? The scientists at the Santa Fe Institute only described the phenomenon but were not able to identify why. Neither can we. We must call in the Game Player. We will call the Game Player an active divine force pushing and guiding humans towards self-actualization. You can call it an unidentified, as yet, if you will, mechanism, which drives organisms to the brink of chaos for an evolutionary advantage. There is an evolutionary advantage to being on the edge of chaos. Also there is a mechanism or divine force, whatever you want to call it, pushing us to this brink. If human self-actualization is the goal of the Game Players, then they would love to have a mechanism in place, which would automatically push the organism to the edge.

The Rush of Excitement & the Pain of boredom

These two mechanisms are the Rush and Boredom Principles. The Boredom Principle causes pain when the Flow Density goes too high. The 'too high' line is determined individually and contextually. The Rush Principle gives pleasure, or a Rush of excitement when the organism extends itself beyond the Realm of Probability. The Boredom Principle kicks in when the human is too stable, pushing the human towards the edge. The Rush Principle is more than a converse statement. The Rush principle inspires the human to experiment with and extend the borders of the edge. First the human wants to extend the border of Actuality. This will put him or her in territory never before explored. Second it leads to the Homing Principle, which creates a base of stability from which to do work.

E. Explanations of How: First a fanciful Homo history

How & Why?

How did the Boredom and Rush Principles arise? Following is one explanation based upon a modern mythology.

Homo erectus

The most successful of the homo species, so far, Homo erectus, (1.6 million BC. ->100,000 BC.) began adapting to its environment by making simple stone implements. The ability to adapt was beginning to be programmed into the genetic code. But according to the Boredom Theory, these early Homo erectus could adapt but didn't yet have the capacity to be bored. Hence they and their immediate predecessors, the Homo sapiens, (100,000 BC. -> 30,000 BC.), the Neanderthal, didn't need to experiment with their environment. Presumably they were happy with the way things were. Each of us has relics of the Neanderthal, Homo sapiens, gene pool, which, although recessive, sometimes emerges. Satisfied with the way things are. No motivation for change. This is a Neanderthal way of thinking.

Mother Nature became bored

After over a million years of relative social stability with Homo erectus, Mother Nature injected more intelligence. Then came the Neanderthal, smarter and yet still quite satisfied. Things were moving too slowly in relative balance. She had this beautiful planet, Earth, to explore, while these satisfied creatures were happy staying along and around the Mediterranean. Life was good. Game was plentiful. Existence was balanced. Then Mother Nature became bored. As this boredom hit her, it also created a genetic mutation. Her boredom was reflected in her new creation. And she said, "Perfect. This is enough. For Now, I will do nothing, but watch my new creation Emerge."

Homo sapiens borditis.

This new creature, Homo sapiens sapiens, was immediately bored and dissatisfied with the way things were and began to change things around. He changed his location, invented new tools, more effective weapons, and began decorating the home. As the name Homo sapiens indicates, the Neanderthals were thinking men. Yet we are Homo sapiens sapiens. We think a little more? Our brains are of equivalent size. We should be called instead, Homo sapiens borditis. (Borditis to rhyme with meningitis, both disabling diseases.) We humans have the ability to think and the ability to be bored.

F. Other speculations on the beginnings of the pain of Boredom

A brief overview

Another stab: We observed diversity. We speculated that the pain of boredom was at the root of this craving for variety. We then observed other occasions when humans craved order and stability. Leaning upon the notion of the Edge of Chaos, we speculated that humans are drawn to their own individual Edge of Chaos like moths to a flame.

A Perhaps explanation

Perhaps because of the fineness of the filigree structure of our brains we were able to store more descriptive, predictive neural networks. Perhaps then this increased consciousness became able to assign life to individual neural networks based upon higher deviations. Then when these neural networks began to shrink it caused us pain.

A Froggy idea

A last thrust: A frog can't see much unless it moves. Our human eyes vibrate so that everything moves a little so that we can 'see' it better. Perhaps Consciousness, to know that it exists, must experience movement. The movement of neural networks, growing and shrinking, stimulates the perception of self and consciousness. Conversely when the neural networks become static then consciousness has a harder time perceiving itself. Consciousness to preserve itself will shake the organism to movement. Perhaps when any part of the neural networks begins repeating itself, consciousness feels cheated of existence and demands movement. The urge of Consciousness to thrash about is based upon the pain of neural networks shutting down.

Pain and Consciousness Linked

This deepening of our potential to feel pain also increased our consciousness. Consciousness and Pain are linked. Humans frequently abused alcohol in the attempt to dull their pain by dulling their consciousness. This restless of consciousness is aimed at furthering its own existence. When things stay the same for too long it begins to shut down. The Greek mythology has the story of Hermes telling such a boring story that the 100 eyes of Argos close one by one until he dies of boredom.

Quote: Life based upon information processing

"Life is based to an incredible degree on its ability to process information. It stores information. It maps sensory information. And it makes some complex transformations on that information to produce action. [The English biologist Richard] Dawkins has this really nice example. If you take a rock and toss it into the air, it traces out a nice parabola. It's at the mercy of the laws of physics. It can only make a simple response to the forces that are acting on it from outside. But now if you take a bird and throw it into the air, its behavior is nothing like that. It flies off into the trees somewhere. The same forces are certainly acting on this bird. But there's an awful lot of internal information processing going on that's responsible for its behavior. And that's true even if you go down to simple cells: they aren't just doing what inanimate matter does. They aren't just responding to simple forces. So one of the interesting questions we can ask about living things is, Under what conditions do systems whose dynamics are dominated by information processing arise from things that just respond to physical forces? When and where does the processing of information and the storage of information become important? (Chris Langton, Page 232, Complexity by M. Mitchell Waldrop, 1992)

The second question is what we are interested in. We are not interested in the physical forces. These have been thoroughly studied by the physicists. We are interested in the processing and storage of information.

A Subtle Distinction

We first observed the craving for diversity in humans. We hypothesized the Boredom Principle, the pain of shrinking Deviations. We understood that this was no law because we saw that in situations of great turmoil that shrinking Deviations was accompanied by a sense of relief. It was easy to see that the association of pain or pleasure with shrinking Deviations is not absolute but is instead a contextual phenomenon. We then introduced the concept of the edge of Chaos.

It doesn't matter how, because that

Whether the Boredom and Rush Principle happened according to 'natural' mechanisms or whether Mother Nature's boredom was reflected in her creatures, the human, we can't prove. We like the latter. It really doesn't matter how they come into existence. The focus of these notebooks is upon what would happen if these principles were in effect. We are going to assume they exist because they explain lots of observable phenomenon.


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